If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth female protagonist – well, at least metaphorically speaking – then you won’t go wrong turning to 1997’s Contact. Jodie Foster stars as Dr. Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who works at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Later on, she moves to the Very Large Array in central New Mexico. Arroway is part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, a scientific endeavor looking for intelligence beyond earth.
One night, while listening to radio emissions from space, Dr. Arroway happens upon a one-in-a-billion occurrence: an alien signal.
In particular, this signal is a repeating sequence of prime numbers, strongly indicating an alien intelligence. This is incredibly convenient timing, given that SETI is in danger of being shut down. It gets even better when Arroway and other scientists discover that the signal contains a massive amount of data. When deciphered, the message is revealed as a kind of schematic.
When the scientists follow the directions (with the help of some serious worldwide funding), they build a massive and persistently mysterious machine. It appears to be some sort of strange transport device, though no one will be sure until someone takes a ride.
Through a series of plot twists, Dr. Arroway eventually gets to go on the much-anticipated trip. She makes contact (get it?) with an alien being and sets humanity on a new spacefaring path.
While she isn’t a resistance fighter or dream-hopping psychiatrist, Ellie Arroway is just as admirable as any other character on this list. Thanks to her tenacity and strength of her personal beliefs, she even makes a major first step in human history. That’s more than enough to qualify her for some serious admiration.